A lot of us are multitasking these days. But Emily Yates takes it to a new level. The 30-year-old U.C. Berkeley student is also a musician, a writer, a photographer and an activist. All of these parts of her identity developed out of the intense experiences she had after answering a fateful phone call when she was just 19. Reporter: Lisa Morehouse
Emily Yates walks through the U.C. Berkeley campus after her final exam for her Arabic class. She has two more before the end of the semester: one in an Islam and South Asia class, and one in Islam and politics.
"I'll be ready to party Friday night!" Yates says.
Yates is a Near East studies major at Berkeley.
"I didn't have any idea of history in the Middle East and South Asia, and now I've got a lot more," Yates says. "To the extent that I'm kind of annoying at parties. If they want to talk about the Middle East I say 'Well the Ottoman Empire...'"
This passion stems from her time in the U.S. Army. During two deployments to Iraq, Yates started asking a lot of questions.
"When I was deployed, I knew it was wrong for us to be in Iraq, but I did not know why," she says with a little laugh.
For Yates, studying the war she was a part of is surreal.
"It was weird this semester looking through my syllabus and seeing a section on Operation Iraqi Freedom, and saying, 'That's the war I was in! I wonder what I'm going to read about it?'" she says.
Yates leads me to her favorite place to relax on campus, a top-story, empty room with a balcony and views of the whole San Francisco Bay Area. Yates says everything she studies gives context to her war experience.
"It really makes me want to keep learning, and it has made me more cynical than ever about government propaganda," she says. "I helped produce it, basically, for the military."
She helped produce it as a member of the Army's Public Affairs team. First on a base in the United States, then at Camp Victory, Iraq, she wrote articles for internal publications.
"They were all ridiculously optimistic about the war in Iraq, and I knew that was wrong," she says.
So, how did Yates end up in a war she questioned? Raised in upstate New York, Yates says she hit a rough patch in her teenage years. She dropped out of high school, then boarding school, got a GED and went to community college, when an Army recruiter called. He asked what her major was, and Yates told him she hoped to go into journalism.
Yates recalls, "He said, 'I can get you a journalism job in the Army.'"
This was December 2001, just months after 9-11.
Yates remembers thinking, "I want to be a journalist, I want to cover the story, I definitely won't be able to do that from community college in Syracuse, so, why not?"
She became a public affairs specialist. She was sure she'd end up in Afghanistan. Near the end of her training, a drill sergeant approached.
She recalls, "He said, 'Soldier? How do you feel about going to Kuwait?' I walked away and started thinking, 'Why would I go to Kuwait? Oh my God, we're going to invade Iraq.'"
During her first, year-long deployment in Iraq, Yates didn't feel anything like a war reporter. Camp Victory was a frequent target for attack, and she lived with the possibility of dying every day, but she also felt stuck at division headquarters doing lay-out for an Army publication.
"After demanding enough, I got to go out," she says. "I went out on patrol, out on a night raid one time, I covered the elections in December 2005, but by this time I was well aware I was not going to be writing my own view of what I was seeing."
Increasingly, she felt she had little control and got more and more upset when she was called back to Iraq under the stop-loss policy.
"I was a very, very, very angry person during the second deployment," Yates says.
Now, more than four years later, her methods for healing include school, activism, and art. For a class last semester, Yates made a short documentary film exploring Islamophobia in the military. She interviewed veterans from different military branches, and asked about how their training and experience shaped their perceptions of Muslims.
For more than two years, she's worked with the organization Iraq Veterans Against the War.
"I enjoyed immediately the sense of relief I got with being around other people who had the experience of being in a war that they were not supportive of," she says.
She works on their campaign to keep troops with PTSD from being redeployed. This is personal for Yates.
"I don't know if I had PTSD after first deployment, but I was definitely in bad shape and shouldn't have been deployed again, and I know lots of other people in same boat," she says.
Last year, Yates recorded an album of upbeat folk songs with satirical lyrics, many of which touch on her military experience. In mid-December, she sang and played ukulele and banjo at a small concert in the Berkeley studio where she recorded her album.
"The military was quite a traumatic experience for me overall, but without that experience I wouldn't have what I have now," she says. "The life I have now would be vastly different, and I'm actually pretty happy with the life I have now. For better or worse, I can't have any regrets."
She just doesn't want anyone else to endure the kind of pain she did. When Yates graduates she hopes to gather musical veterans of the Iraq War for a trip back to the Middle East to play with Iraqi musicians.